By Patrick R. McDonough
Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Stephanie, thank you so much for giving us your time. I just finished The Apocalyptic Mannequin (I loved it!). Where were your poems when I was younger? I read poetry growing up, but if I found your work as a kid, it would have planted a bug in me early on that would’ve demanded consumption of all dark poetry.
Stephanie M. Wytovich (SMW):It’s my pleasure, and thank you for such kind words about my work! I, too, wish I would have had more horror poetry in my life as a child, and I often think about possibly writing a collection aimed more toward children/middle grade readers. Maybe one day!
DHR: Wow! That’s a great idea. The cover seems like it is directly from a few of your poems, while at the same time, it’s a perfect representation for the entire collection. Who created the cover? Was it a love-at-first-sight sort of deal?
SMW: I’ve been working with my cover artist, Steven Archer, for the past seven years now, and he’s done the work on all of my poetry collections from Hysteria: A Collection of Madness to The Apocalyptic Mannequin. Steven and I work really well together, and he sees my visions clearer than I do sometimes. A handful of the covers we’ve done over the years have been love-at-first-sight scenarios and they’ve hardly needed any revisions done to them. Others I’ve picked out from his body of work and he’s come up with edits to better acclimate them to the themes and style of my books. The Apocalyptic Mannequin was a love-at-first-sight situation, but one of my favorite stories is in regard to Brothel. I had originally picked a painting of his that was of this beautiful, sultry woman smoking a cigarette, and when I told him I was interested in that specific piece, he told me no, and then sent it back a few days later with a cat skull painted over her face.
And honestly, that’s the kind of relationship you want with your cover artist: someone who knows your work better than you do. I’m glad we’ve become friends over the years and I respect the hell out of his work. He’s beyond talented.
DHR: It sounds like you two are very lucky to have found one another. Kind of piggybacking from the last question, why did you choose The Apocalyptic Mannequin for the title?
SMW: A few years ago, I wrote the stand-alone poem “The Apocalyptic Mannequin” and had it published in the HWA Poetry Showcase IV. I’d been searching for a new direction in my work, and the science fiction, robotic-soliloquy vibe really spoke to me because I’d never even attempted anything like that before. After that, I kept tapping into the doomsday vein and the book started to speak for itself. Plus, since the mannequin’s voice was the first I heard, I knew she was my new muse and therefore I decided it would only be right to put her in the spotlight.
DHR: Neat! Why did you publish through Raw Dawg Screaming Press?
SMW: Raw Dog Screaming Press was the first publisher who really took a chance on me when they published my debut collection Hysteria back in 2013, and since then, we’ve been working closely together ever since. Even before then, though, I admired the work they did within the genre, and I loved how they were constantly pushing boundaries and forcing their readers and writers to reinterpret the genre and its rules/expectations. When I saw that they were as passionate about poetry as I was, I knew we were going to be a great fit.
But beyond all of that, Jennifer and John are not only incredibly supportive and encouraging of my work, they’re wonderful, brilliant, kind people and we’ve grown to be great friends over the years. I couldn’t be happier working with them and I love watching the press grow and it’s a real honor to be a small part of that in any way.
DHR: Your collection consists of 90 poems. How long did it take to write all of those and at what point did you know you wanted to have them in a single book?
SMW: With poetry, I write thematically, so I’m usually always working toward a new collection, although I do write stand-alone poems for various publications here and there. This specific book, however, took me a little over two years to write.
DHR: Are these stories connected? As in, are they all part of one massive apocalypse, through the eyes of dozens of points of views? Or are they all separate accounts during different apocalypses?
SMW: These poems are all separate accounts during different visions of the apocalypse. When I pick a theme/muse/topic to write about, I like to challenge myself to interpret it as many ways as possible while also considering both what’s been done in the genre and what the genre still needs.
DHR: Do you have a favorite apocalyptic film, show, and or book(s)?
SMW: I have several! I recently wrote an article about this for Speculative Chic, which readers can check out here!
DHR: I won’t spoil the above link, but you’ve got some excellent choices. What’s scarier, life or horror fiction?
Horror fiction can be absolutely terrifying, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day, we’re experiencing that fear safely from a distance, and beyond that, most of the time there are rules in place for how we tackle whatever type of monster or villain we’re facing. Life isn’t like that, though. There are no rules, the pain is real, and sometimes the monster doesn’t go away/die. Hell, sometimes we’re even the monsters.
DHR: That’s a scary truth. Do you have a favorite poem in this collection? If so, what makes it stand out the most in your heart?
SMW: This is a tough one. I really like “Identification,” “Call Me Haunted,” and “Death Bed,” but I’m particularly partial to “As the Crow Flies.”
DHR: As the Crow Flies was a nice and eerie poem. Do you have a favorite apocalyptic scenario? Let’s be brutal for one moment. Let’s say you’re handed the keys to control our world’s Judgement Day. What are you going to make everyone suffer (and die) through?
SMW: Zombies. I’m definitely going with zombies—hands down! I mean, do I want the world to end? Absolutely not. But if I had to go down running around with a chainsaw and hacking up the undead, I could learn to be a little okay with it.
DHR: I’m right there with you! Count me in. I have to be honest though, if I was thrown into one of your end of the world scenarios, the chances of me surviving are slim to none. What do you think your chances are in surviving one of your own apocalyptic stories?
SMW: I’d like to think that I’d be one of the last ones standing, but between you and me, I don’t think I’m making it out either, ha! I will say that I’m definitely the type to go down swinging though!
DHR: Swing and I’ll run, hehe. A few of your poems deal with sisters of the supernatural kind. Do you have a fascination with witches?
SMW: Very much so. Spiritually speaking, I identify as pagan, and I’ve always had a fascination with the archetype of the witch in film and literature, but the identity of the witch is something that is more personal and part of my day-to-day routine these days, too.
DHR: Right on. I too have a fascination with witches. Do you plan on writing an apocalyptic novel? I feel like you’d create something incredible.
SMW: In some ways, I already have. My debut novel, The Eighth, was published by Dark Regions Press in 2016. The quick elevator pitch for it is that it’s a religious horror novel about the seven deadly sins searching for their eighth. For more on the book, you can click here.
DHR: I’ll have to add that to my TBR list. What poets influence you the most?
SMW: Oh, I could talk about this one for hours, but I’ll try to keep it brief: Nick Flynn, Zachary Schomburg, Ocean Vuong, Charles Simic, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Andrea Gibson, Helen Marshall, Theodora Goss, Rachel Wiley, Aase Berg, Julie Boxsee, Yona Harvey, Natalie Diaz, Eleanor Hooker, Megan Falley, Hieu Minh Nguyen, and the list goes on and on and on…
DHR: Would you like to make a shout out to anyone?
SMW: Absolutely! Continued love to Jennifer and John for their support and friendship; a huge thanks to Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi for her hard work and help with the marketing and publicity prior to, during, and after the release; and my forever gratitude to my family, friends, and readers.
DHR: Very good. Thank you again, Stephanie!